FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Joe Tankersley drove more than 800 miles to south Florida from his Hartselle home with a “woozy feeling” in his stomach.
“I just kept playing that game over and over in my head, and it was making me sick,” he said.
Tankersley, a lifelong Tide supporter, was talking about the 1973 Sugar Bowl, when Notre Dame defeated Alabama 24-23.
Like many other Alabama fans, Tankersley said a victory tonight will exorcise the dislike of Notre Dame he has carried for more than 30 years.
The two storied programs will play at Sun Life Stadium in Miami for the BCS National Championship with kickoff of 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Although they are two of the most successful football programs in college history, they have played just six times, and Notre Dame holds a 5-1 record against Alabama, a fact that doesn’t sit well with the Crimson nation. But there are other incidents away from the field that have created the disdain fans on both sides hold for each other.
“I just can’t get over what happened in 1966, and it’s been with me most of my life,” James Newberry, 62, of Gadsden said.
The teams didn’t play in 1966 when Alabama was bidding for a third straight national title. Despite the Tide’s 11-0 record, voters selected Notre Dame as the national champion with its 9-0-1 record. Books have been written about Alabama’s 1966 team, often referring to it as the year of the missing ring.
“I haven’t liked Notre Dame since,” Newberry said.
Irish supporter John McEnery, 70, said Alabama fans have no reason to whine about the 1966 situation. He said they got payback in 1973, when the UPI voted the Tide No. 1 before the two schools played in the Sugar Bowl.
“Boo hoo for the Alabama people,” he said.
Former Alabama standout Kerry Goode, of Town Creek, was 9 when the teams played in 1973. He remembers his entire family pulling for the Tide and felt “left out” because he liked Notre Dame.
“At that point, I didn’t know a lot about Alabama football,” he said.
Goode and older brother, Chris, played in the last two meetings between Alabama and Notre Dame in 1986 and 1987.
The 1986 game was Alabama’s only win against Notre Dame, and it created a lasting image that artist Daniel Moore painted on canvas and titled “The Sack.”
No. 2-ranked Alabama was in a scoreless game at Legion Field when Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beurelein faked a handoff, rolled right on a bootleg and was crushed by Cornelius Bennett.
“It’s the play that defines my career at Alabama,” Bennett said. “Everywhere I go people still ask me about it, and I still sign prints of the play.”
“No matter where you were on the sideline, you could hear the hit,” Goode said.
Bennett and Goode shied away from using the word hate when talking about Notre Dame, but both understand the fans’ dislike.
“Notre Dame has the same kind of expectations we have at Alabama, and that’s probably why the fan bases dislike each other,” Bennett said.
For Tankersley, it’s more.
“There is just something about them that you learn to dislike,” he said.
Notre Dame fan Waylon Cameron, of Moulton, admits he walks with a sense of entitlement. On consecutive Saturdays, he brought a Notre Dame flag to youth basketball games “just to irritate the Alabama people.”
He even showed his leprechaun tattoo to anyone who wanted to see it and would say “1-5” to anyone who said “Roll Tide.”
“That’s what we hate about them,” Kelly Dickerson, of Dothan, said. “They are arrogant. I want to see what they have to say after Monday’s game.”
Like many of the young fans on both sides wearing “Catholics vs. Cousins” and “Golden Domers vs. Mobile Homers” T-shirts on the beaches and streets in south Florida, Dickerson was not born the last time the teams played in 1987.
“My hate list: Auburn, then Notre Dame,” she said.